Left-leaning activists asked the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday to indict former President Benigno Aquino III for corruption in connection with his administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), an economic pump-priming measure that the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional two years ago.
The suit is the second filed against Aquino since he stepped down and lost his immunity, in what his camp brands as pure harassment. He is also facing a criminal complaint over the botched Mamasapano counterterrorism operation that left 44 police commandos dead in a clash with Moro rebels last year.
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In a 26-page complaint, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and Bayan Muna party-list group pressed malversation, usurpation of powers and graft charges against Aquino and his budget secretary, Florencio Abad, for the controversial DAP, which in 2014 the high court outlawed.
The two were accused of “pure and simple criminal diversion of public funds” to projects or programs that did not pass Congress’ scrutiny.
“This is nothing more than a big pork barrel of the President, which we remember was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.
READ: BREAKING! SC junks petition urging Ombudsman to charge Aquino on DAP, PDAF
The DAP was a budgeting mechanism launched in 2011 by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) through National Budget Circular No. 541, to accelerate spending and to pump-prime the economy.
But the high court ruled the practice illegal, in particular the cross-border transfer of funds, and the declaration of savings before the end of the fiscal year and their realignment for items not found in the budget law.
Aquino’s spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said the actions of Bayan were “neither surprising nor unexpected.”
“It is clearly part of their continuing harassment of a President who refused to be cowed by their chest-beating during his entire term,” she said in a statement, noting that the activists held rallies as soon as Aquino stepped down on June 30.
Abad said he had yet to read the complaint, but promised to issue a statement soon.
Reyes said the groups had attempted, but failed, to exact accountability in the previous administration through an impeachment complaint in a Congress that was dominated by Aquino’s Liberal Party.
“We can only do this first step toward accountability now that Aquino is no longer President and they have no immunity,” Reyes told reporters.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said filing the complaint was the start of a wider effort to hold Aquino accountable for his government’s actions, particularly the DAP.
The other complainants were social media activist Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change; Alliance of Concerned Teachers chair Benjamin Valbuena; Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees president Ferdinand Gaite;
Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) founder Dante Jimenez; Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas secretary general Antonio Flores; Gabriela secretary general Joan Mae Salvador; Kadamay chair Gloria Arellano, and Philippine Heart Center Employees Association-Alliance of Health Workers president Bonifacio Carmona Jr.
Last week, the VACC became the first group to file a case against Aquino, charging him with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide over the Jan. 25, 2015, Mamasapano debacle.
This time, the groups accused Aquino of technical malversation and usurpation of legislative powers for implementing the DAP, which they said resulted in the diversion of funds appropriated by the 2011, 2012 and 2013 budget laws to programs they themselves identified and approved from October 2011 to 2016, thereby, “supplanting the will of Congress.”
Technical malversation refers to the illegal use of public funds or property, or when “any public officer who shall apply any public fund or property under his administration to any public use other than for which such fund or property were appropriated by law or ordinance.”
Aquino and Abad were also charged with violating Section 3 (e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for “causing undue injury to complainants and the various sectors of the public they represent, including the government, in the discharge of their official administrative functions through evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”
The groups also lodged administrative complaints against the two for grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and gross dishonesty.
The Supreme Court upheld its decision to strike down the DAP in February last year although, upon appeal by the government, it allowed the augmentation of funds for specific projects given allocations under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
The first ruling had implied that the “authors, proponents and implementers” of the program could be held liable for the DAP, but the subsequent decision left only “authors” within the ambit of coverage in case of legal action.
Asked if Aquino could be considered an “author” of the DAP, Reyes replied: “Most definitely, he was part of the authors.”
“The DAP started with the pooling of savings, which was done on orders of the President himself. That was the trigger so they would have the funds. He ordered the pooling of the savings to his pet projects that were not in the GAA,” he said.
Paner stressed that the public must hold Aquino liable for his actions.
“We need to keep watch. If you don’t do the right thing as the President, you should be liable, you should be accountable,” Paner said.
The DAP was largely unknown to the public until it came to light in September 2013 when former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada revealed in a privilege speech that 20 senators received at least P50 million each in additional lump-sum allocations after the conviction of then Chief Justice Renato Corona in May 2012 for not declaring his wealth.
Abad later confirmed the release of P1.107 billion to the 20 senators but stressed that the funds came from the DAP, opening the floodgates of controversy.
Of the total P142.23 billion for the DAP in 2011 and 2012, the DBM said 9 percent, or P12.8 billion, went to programs and projects identified by legislators.
In 2011, a total of P83.53 billion was released to provide additional funds for programs and projects, such as healthcare, public works, housing and resettlement, and agriculture. The following year, P58.7 billion was released to augment tourism road infrastructure, school infrastructure, rehabilitation and extension of light rail systems, and sitio (subvillage) electrification.
The DBM said the DAP was sourced from savings, sale of state assets and unexpected remittance of dividends from the sale of government corporations.
Critics however dismissed the DAP as just another form of pork barrel, prompting the petitions for the Supreme Court to end it. TVJ
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